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Zika money finally gets approved as Senate votes to keep government running

Congressman holds jar of mosquitoes on House floor to push for funding to battle Zika

Rep. David Jolly of Florida brought company with him to speak on the House floor. He brought a jar containing nearly 1000 Aedes aegypti mosquitoes from his state to urge Congress to quickly pass federal funding for Zika virus prevention.
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Rep. David Jolly of Florida brought company with him to speak on the House floor. He brought a jar containing nearly 1000 Aedes aegypti mosquitoes from his state to urge Congress to quickly pass federal funding for Zika virus prevention.

Overcoming its earlier divisions on Zika funding, the Senate on Wednesday approved $1.1 billion in research and prevention aid as it passed a bigger appropriations bill to fund the federal government into December.

Sen. Bill Nelson, aware of a looming potentially divisive House vote later in the day or this week, greeted the Senate’s 72-26 vote with guarded optimism.

“We had a small victory today in our ongoing fight against the Zika virus,” said Nelson, an Orlando Democrat.

Republican Sen. Marco Rubio of Miami, who’s made Zika funding his top priority as he runs for re-election against Democratic Rep. Patrick Murphy, criticized the “political games” that had held it up for seven months.

“This anti-Zika package rightfully prioritizes Americans in Florida and Puerto Rico,” Rubio said. “I’m encouraged that my calls for action have been answered, and that real assistance from the federal government is finally on its way.”

The Zika money is tucked inside a 10-week stopgap funding measure totaling $1.1 trillion. The measure now moves to the House, with a potentially divisive vote looming. The bill must be passed by Friday, the end of the current fiscal year.

A large chunk of the $1.1 billion for Zika would go to Florida, New York and Puerto Rico, which the virus ravaged during the summer.

The National Institutes for Health would receive more than $160 million of the Zika funds to continue its recently launched first clinical trial for a vaccine and to conduct other research.

Puerto Rico, Florida and New York have more than 90 percent of the 23,000-plus Zika cases in the United States.

The virus is carried primarily by the Aedes aegypti mosquito, but it can also be transmitted through sexual intercourse with an infected partner.

Florida had 904 Zika cases as of Tuesday, 109 of them locally transmitted through mosquitoes.

Ninety-one of Florida’s Zika infections involved pregnant women, an especially vulnerable group because of the birth defects the virus can cause, including microcephaly, which causes infants to be born with abnormally small brains and heads.

The Senate vote Wednesday represented a turnaround for Zika funds in the higher chamber. In three earlier summertime votes, Senate Democrats, joined by some Republicans, rejected stand-alone Zika bills because of extraneous provisions.

The most contentious provision sought to deny any of the new Zika money from going to Planned Parenthood partner clinics in Puerto Rico.

The island has almost 19,500 cases of Zika, some 84 percent of all cases in the United States and far more than any other state or territory.

The divisive Planned Parenthood clause is no longer part of the Zika funding measure in the overall spending bill. The Puerto Rico clinics will be allowed to seek reimbursement for Zika treatment except for abortions, consistent with four-decade-old federal restrictions.

32 Number of weeks since President Obama sent Congress a $1.9 billion Zika prevention and research bill.

Nelson and Rubio voted for the $1.1 trillion bill; 11 Republican senators and 10 Democratic ones voted against it.

That bipartisan split among opponents foreshadowed potential pitfalls in the House, which was expected to take up the appropriations measure later Wednesday.

About $400 million of the $1.1 billion in Zika funds is offset in spending cuts to a range of other programs supported by Democratic lawmakers.

The larger appropriations measure also contains $500 million for flood relief to Louisiana and other states devastated by summer storms.

Democratic Sens. Debbie Stabenow and Gary Peters of Michigan voted against the larger measure because it did not include $500 million they’d requested to clean contaminated water and replace lead pipes in Flint.

Negotiators promised to provide $170 million to Flint in a separate water bill moving through Congress, but that didn’t satisfy Stabenow and Peters.

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